Venice 2018

Sex and Violence on the Lido

The Daily — Sep 6, 2018
Aisling Franciosi in Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale (2018)

Today has seen the premiere of the only film competing at the seventy-fifth Venice Film Festival directed by a woman. Adding insult to injury, The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to her 2014 sleeper hit, The Babadook, was met at last night’s preview screening with an obscenity hurled at Kent’s name as the credits rolled as well as some, shall we say, ill-timed cheers. Ariston Anderson has details in the Hollywood Reporter, but beware, his story contains a few spoilers. For now, we’ll leave it to Glenn Kenny at to sum up just why this incident has hit so hard at the festival: “With one angrily shouted word, one awful person proved that the central thesis of the movie, that the world is run by men who hate women, remains absolutely correct.” Kent’s response during today’s press conference, as reported by Anderson, couldn’t be more noble: “I think it’s of absolute importance to react with compassion and love for ignorance,” she said. “There is no other option. I think the film speaks very clearly to that. We see other options played out, and they give no relief.”

On to the film itself. The year is 1825, the place is Tasmania, and a young Irish convict woman is determined take revenge on a British army lieutenant for the sadistic violence he’s visited on her and her family. The Nightingale is “a cauldron of blood, murders, and rapes so unflinching in vividness and brutality as to make it impossible to go through its 136 minutes without ever turning away from the screen, let alone to come out of it untouched,” writes Leonardo Goi at the Film Stage. But it’s also “one of the most memorable works in its genre—a parable that never turns violence into a spectacle, but is resolutely committed to expose the poisonous double prism of racism and sexism it feeds upon.” For Variety’s Guy Lodge, the film is a “both-barrels-blazing statement of intent from a filmmaker determined not to be limited or labeled by the popular meme-ification of her debut, with the muscular formal grasp to match her ambitious reach.”

Back to the world of men, though for the time being, we’ll stick to the nineteenth century. French director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone) makes his English-language debut with The Sisters Brothers, starring John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as a quibbling pair of guns for hire. They’re following a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) as they hunt down a chemist (Riz Ahmed) who’s invented a sure-fire way to strike it rich during the Gold Rush of the 1850s. Writing for Sight & Sound, Jessica Kiang heartily recommends this “loose-limbed, mournfully comic western that gets better the further off-trail it goes.”

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw agrees that this adaptation of Patrick deWitt’s award-winning 2011 novel, written by the director with Thomas Bidegain, is “resoundingly enjoyable,” and adds that “Audiard’s storytelling has an easy swing to it, his dialogue is garrulous and unsentimental, and the narrative is exotically offbeat.” So exotic, perhaps, that Clara Miranda Scherffig, writing for Cinema Scope, feels the need to assure us that “what may at first glance seem to be detours from the main narrative are in fact crucial, and update the genre while providing a bridge between the foundation of west(ern) culture and its contemporary repercussions.” And TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde suggests that The Sisters Brothers is “a western for people who think they don’t like westerns, but it’s also for fans of John Ford and Budd Boetticher alike.”

On the afternoon of July 22, 2011, a right-wing terrorist set off a car bomb in Oslo that killed eight and injured over 200 people. Two hours later, he began a shooting rampage on the island of Utøya where young members of the Norwegian Labour Party were camping. Sixty-eight died there and over a hundred were injured, fifty-five of them seriously. This February saw the premiere in Berlin of Erik Poppe’s U – July 22, which restages the attack in, as Jessica Kiang notes at the Playlist, “one, almost context-free technically impressive, bludgeoningly effective but ethically questionable real-time take.”

Paul Greengrass provides the context. He opens 22 July twenty-four hours before the attacks begin and carries the story on through the lone wolf terrorist’s trial. Reviews are ranging from pretty good to very good indeed, with the Guardian’s Danny Leigh being the most enthusiastic. He finds Greengrass in top form here, operating in his chosen niche at “the junction of film and journalism, drama and the record.” Many, though, agree with Guy Lodge, who sees a stumbling block in the decision “to shoot in Nordic-accented English throughout, a contrivance that chips away at Greengrass’s customary knack for environmental authenticity, and imposes a uniformly measured meter on the actors’ otherwise honestly felt performances. Even at its most immersive, we’re never less than aware of the film’s diligent outside view.”

Reviews of Pablo Trapero’s The Quietud, the Argentine director’s follow-up to 2015’s well-received The Clan, are all over the map. For Variety’s Jay Weissberg, it’s a film that “deftly enters into the bosom of a family harboring multiple secrets, encompassing the personal and political. Spanish-language films about wealthy people always risk getting slapped with the ‘telenovela’ label, yet the emotions here are real.” Two sisters (Bérénice Bejo and Martina Gusmán) are each engaged in illicit affairs, and Glenn Kenny finds that after “the movie shifts its focus from the jaw-dropping sexual shenanigans and focuses on the legal troubles that beset the household once its patriarch dies, and sins of both the father and mother related to Argentina’s real-life secret detention centers of the ’70s and ’80s, La Quietud lands on shakier ground. Not because Trapero’s interpolation of real historical atrocity is glib, but because the secrets and lies are revealed so operatically and then not given any narrative space in which to air out.” In the Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young goes further, arguing that “Trapero’s ambitious attempt to strike a unique tone somewhere between serious drama and humorous daytime TV falls awkwardly flat.”

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